What is most vital to maintaining a life-long, acting career isn’t a skill taught or learned. It’s not talent. Nor a physical attribute inherent, altered or purchased. It doesn’t exist from collecting the industry connections nurtured and maintained. No acting book reveals a 10-step process to achieving it. No army of talent representation, public relations handlers, image and branding consultants, astrologers or life coaches bring to an actor’s career this one vital component that keeps an acting career sustainable.
I’ve witnessed in entertainment the careers of actors, agents, managers, directors, and production personnel flame out because they lost, or abandoned, what sustained them professionally. One recent surrender was on my Facebook news feed. The actor wrote:
This actor had many desirable elements of an acting career. Well-regarded representation. A lengthy resume of professional credits that would be the envy of many aspiring actors I meet at universities. Why the public display of despair? Rejection, loss and B.S. in the acting trade is routine. Blaming the obvious isn’t why he was giving up. The cause came from within him but he didn’t know it. How am I certain? Because I have nearly lost the vital “it” myself.
At those moments I remind myself of my final statement to actors I meet at universities. An advisory more important to adhere to than all I shared during our prior time together. The one vital component to career longevity they must always maintain is:
I beg they hold tightly on to their idealism. Never let it go. If they feel it slipping, they’re to remind themselves of their youthful hopes. The love. The passion. The excitement. The drive that had them forsaking all else in their life. Or as simply put in the Stephen Sondheim lyric from FOLLIES: “When everything was possible and nothing made sense.” Once an actor shuns their idealism it’s time to step aside. Curtain.
Cynics scorn idealism as folly. One definition for idealism includes the following description: “The practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically.”
“Unrealistically?” Many practices in entertainment are unrealistic. Breaking into song. Super-hero movies. Walking into a sterile room, and pretending to be someone else before strangers in order to get a job. It’s all silly and unrealistic. The odds of an actor becoming a household name are unrealistic. But for a majority of actors; that’s not what sparked their desire to make acting a profession. Love is often the flame that ignited the passion. Love is an ideal. There is no more a realistic ambition or virtue than the idealism of love.
An actor’s idealism is constantly challenged. The actor must oppose the relentless resistance with unrealistic strength. As actress Bonnie Black spoke of an actor’s life in my book ACTING: Make It Your Business, “An actor must have the hide of a rhinoceros and the soul of a child.” Our inner child is our idealism. Idealism is the oxygen that fills our dreams and gives breath to hope.
If, at some point, the flame that is your idealism flickers and burns out; do not fear what comes next.
Have a candid discussion with yourself. What do you want of your life, professionally? If it’s still the business. Good. But don’t limit your scope. Consider how you can diversify into other areas of the business that restores your idealism. Leverage every professional contact. Ask for help. People love helping; especially in our community of entertainment. If you want a clean cut from the business—make it. I have witnessed others rise from despair. From casting directors, agents, directors, to actors of all levels of visibility. They are happy once more in new pursuits. They don’t perceive the change as failure. They embrace the change as a success to being fulfilled once again. Idealism rekindled.
At times an actor may feel like they’re screaming into the wind and not being heard. We are hearing you. Are you hearing yourself? That voice is the most important. Look inward. What idealism fuels your inner eternal flame?
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has taught master classes at dozens of acting programs at universities including Hofstra, Elon, Wright State University, and Rutgers. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.
For more information on Paul’s projects, visit www.PaulRussell.net.